Modernism / Modernity

This reading-intensive seminar explores four dominant strains in the theorizing of modernism – Marxism and Critical Theory (Manfredo Tafuri, Hilde Heynen), Formalism (Colin Rowe, Robin Evans), Organicism (Bruno Zevi, Colin St. John Wilson), and two types of Technologism (Sigfried Giedion, Reinhold Martin, Reyner Banham and Mitchell Schwartzer) — in light of recent accounts of modernity that challenge beliefs that are dominant within architectural discourse about the nature of the modern experience. Underlying each of these theoretical strains, and underlying the stated positions of the architects upon whose work these strains rely, is a nexus of assumptions and positions about the nature of modernity and the role of architecture in modern life. Nearly half the semester will be devoted to recent accounts of modernity emerging from the social theories of Anthony Giddens and J?rgen Habermas. Giddens and Habermas offer powerful accounts, quite different from those found in cultural studies, of a number of fundamental features of modern life: individual agency, an individual\’s relationship to structures of power, the experience of space and time, and the construction of identity. From these accounts, Giddens and Habermas challenge a central position of much current cultural theory – that modernity is dead. Instead, they make a compelling case for modernity as an ongoing condition. Examining modern architecture and its interpretations in light of Giddens\’ and Habermas\’ social theories reveals how architects situate their own practices, and how critics interpret architectural theory and practice, in reference to their own and others\’ accounts of modernity. How modernity is understood profoundly shapes our notions of modernism, and of modern and contemporary architecture\’s place in modern life – as a vehicle for self-revelation, a medium for social critique, a tool for social change, and an instrument of power.Course aimsThe aim of the class is twofold. The first is to introduce recent theories of modernity emerging from social theory into the discourse of architectural history and theory. The second is to critically rethink selected dominant strains in architectural theory by scrutinizing their authors\’ beliefs about modernity and modernism\’s relationship to modernity, and by reexamining the architectural projects and theories on which these authors\’ premises rely.RequirementsThis class is reading-intensive and centered on class participation. Prerequisites are the Buildings, Texts, and Contexts sequence or the equivalent. Students cross-registering from Harvard\’s History of Art and Architecture and MIT\’s History, Theory and Criticism program are welcome.Class participation is required, and constitutes over 30% of the final grade. In addition students will make one short and one major presentation to the class. (The instructor understands that various factors discourage people from vocalizing their thoughts in a classroom context. She will work with any student who asks to facilitate participation in an unpressured, contributory manner.) During weeks 6-10, each student will present to the class an analysis of a modern building or project that has centrally shaped the ideas of one of the theorists studied in class, analyzing both the project in itself and the given theorist\’s interpretation of it in light of the theories of modernity examined in weeks 1-5. In the final two weeks, each non-doctoral student will present to the class a selected contemporary (1985-2005) project, analyzing it in light of the themes explored during the semester. In this presentation, students are expected to propose a self-consciously constructed account of architecture\’s place and/or role in contemporary society in relation to modernity as they understand it. Doctoral students will, instead of the second presentation, write a research paper on a topic determined in consul